Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
This can’t have been the easiest of weeks for Diego Chaves.
It’s demanding enough, choosing a profession that requires punching a man in the head and almost inevitably results in being punched in the head in return. Having to venture from Argentina to Las Vegas in order to engage in such mutual punch-swapping – a journey of about 6,000 miles and 15 hours as the 747 flies – can only add to the difficulty. So it must surely be all the more challenging to arrive just two days beforehand, without the opportunity to relax, adjust to the time zone and the environment and recover from the rigors of travel. But that’s the fate that befell Chaves as a consequence of State Department snafus and computer glitches that left Chaves wondering, as late as Wednesday morning, whether he would be granted a US visa and the opportunity to fly to Sin City.
By the time the Argentine fighter finally arrived at McCarran Airport on Thursday morning, his opponent Brandon Rios was casually walking the halls of the Cosmopolitan, shooting interviews for HBO and waiting patiently for the final pre-fight press conference, to which Chaves – understandably focused on resting after his lengthy and belated journey – did not appear.
When he emerged later that evening after a nap and a workout, Chaves insisted that the delay and uncertainty hadn’t affected him either physically or emotionally. And for all that events may have stacked the odds somewhat against him, it could be argued that he has more to gain and less to lose from Saturday’s encounter than his opponent.
Not that Chaves is likely to need any incentive to defeat Rios, but if he did, the fact that Chris Algieri has, in a matter of months, gone from barely known ESPN fighter to Manny Pacquiao opponent surely provides it; the welterweight field is wide open right now, and an impressive victory could put the Argentine in pole position for the next shot at the Pacman. That isn’t an option for Rios, who had his chance against Pacquiao but fell far short in Macau last November. And if Chaves fails on Saturday? It would be his second consecutive loss in a high-profile bout on American soil; but he is undefeated in his homeland, and a successful career likely continues to await him there. Defeat for Rios, on the other hand, would be his third in a row and would plunge him into journeyman territory: a sudden and dramatic fall for a man who sixteen months ago was an unbeaten rising star.
Rios knows as much, too, and asserts that this time, after many well-documented struggles to make weight, he enters this contest after a camp spent eating and training correctly. Of course, he said as much prior to the Pacquiao contest, too, and we all know how that worked out. But to his credit, he looks fit and lean, and when he stepped on the scale on Friday, he made the welterweight limit of 147 pounds comfortably. It was Chaves who came in a pound over, but that’s within the acceptable range for non-title bouts.
It can’t have been an easy week for Diego Chaves. The task for Rios is to ensure that Saturday isn’t an easy night for him, either. Chaves, in contrast, will be aiming to make it a night to remember.